Leeds defibrillator research used in parliamentary Bill

Research co-authored by a University of Leeds academic into the inequalities in access to life-saving community defibrillators was used in parliament during the first reading of a Bill.

The paper, co-authored by Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine in the School of Medicine, found that in the most deprived areas of England and Scotland, the nearest 24/7 accessible defibrillator is on average a round trip of over a mile, or 1.8km. 

It formed part of the evidence presented by Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, in support of his Bill calling for better access to the devices.

Urgent action is needed to give everyone the same access to these devices, which will prevent unnecessary deaths.

Professor Chris Gale, School of Medicine

If made into law, the Bill would require the provision of automated external defibrillators in all new housing developments of 10 or more homes and would require developers to provide funding for the maintenance of such defibrillators for a period of ten years after installation. 

During the parliamentary session on 6 September, Mr Metcalfe said: “The survival rate for cardiac arrests decreases by 10% for every additional 100 metres between the patient and the defib. It is therefore concerning that, according to a recent study by Burgoine et al.— many members will have read about it in the papers last week — the median distance of a publicly accessible defibrillator from any given postcode in Great Britain is 726 metres. 

“My Bill has two important aspects: the provision of a defibrillator in every new housing development consisting of more than 10 dwellings, and the provision of 10 years’ maintenance funding, all for an additional cost of about £2,500, or £250 per property. That is a small price to pay for immediate access to a lifesaving defibrillator.  

“The scientific evidence overwhelmingly emphasises the impact that the Bill could have, and I hope that the House recognises that and decides to take action to improve cardiac arrest survival rates.” 

Health inequalities

The pioneering study is one of the biggest ever to look at defibrillator access. 

The researchers, using data from The Circuit: the national defibrillator network, calculated the median road distance to a defibrillator with unrestricted public access in Great Britain’s 1.7 million postcodes, and studied the relationship between the distance to a defibrillator and an area’s level of deprivation.  

In Wales, there was no link between defibrillator location and deprivation, but the picture in England and Scotland revealed that on average, the more deprived an area is, the further it is from a 24/7-accessible defibrillator. With nearly three in 10 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happening on the weekend and four in 10 between 6pm and 6am in England, quick access to a defibrillator at any time of the day is crucial.  

People living in the most deprived areas of England and Scotland are on average 99 and 317 metres further away from their nearest 24/7 defibrillator than those in the least deprived areas, respectively.  

On average, a public access defibrillator is 726 metres away from the centre of any given postcode along the road network across Great Britain. 

Every minute of delay between a cardiac arrest and defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by up to 10%. Quick CPR and defibrillation is vital to give someone the best chance of survival. 

This in-depth study sheds new light on alarming health inequalities, with fewer 24/7 defibrillators in close proximity to people living in more deprived areas. The postcode a person lives in may have an important impact on their or a loved one’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest. The researchers say that the greater distances between defibrillators in more deprived areas are putting lives at risk.  

Saving lives

Professor Gale said: “Our research shows that community defibrillators are not an option for many people who suffer cardiac arrest, especially those living in areas of deprivation. This is putting lives are at risk. Urgent action is needed to give everyone the same access to these devices, which will prevent unnecessary deaths.” 

Judy O’Sullivan, Director of Health Innovation Programmes at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We are proud that data from The Circuit has helped to highlight that deprived communities need better support to help improve response times to an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Bystander CPR and defibrillation can double the chance of survival from a cardiac arrest, so it is crucial that we address the unequal access to defibrillators in order to improve survival rates.” 

Further information 

The paper, “Automated external defibrillator location and socioeconomic deprivation in Great Britain”, was published in the journal Heart and was supported by the British Heart Foundation. 

Email University of Leeds press officer Lauren Ballinger via l.ballinger@leeds.ac.uk with media enquiries.